Taking the Guesswork Out
of a $1.4 Billion Canadian
Highway Project

Canada's Amico Affiliates uses Leica Geosystems' new MS50 MultiStation and SmartNet global positioning to tackle major trade corridor between the U.S. and Canada.

"The parkway itself is curvilinear in virtually every direction. There are really no straight lines and a number of tunnels and bridges with a road that meanders through. Grade stakes and traditional layouts are pretty much archaic in this environment."

– Dominic Amicone,
President of Amico Affiliates

Canada's new Right Honourable Herb Gray Parkway Project is a once in a lifetime undertaking. The six-lane, seven-mile, curvaceous expressway is located on Canada's busiest land border crossing. Eventually, it will connect to a bridge in Detroit and serve as a primary entrance and trade corridor between the U.S. and Canada.

The project is expensive – the estimated cost rings in at almost $1.4 billion – and has a lot of players and layers – from excavation to open graded drainage, asphalt, and concrete. For a project of this magnitude, getting the dimensions, grading, and paving right on the first try is imperative. Amico Affiliates, the civil contracting firm leading the parkway's construction, needed a machine control system that was flexible, accurate, and efficient.

No more guesswork

Using traditional surveying methods, a project of this size would typically require grade stakes marked for elevation and a painstaking, manual process of checking grades against the markers. Crews would have to follow behind the paver, constantly checking the grade and letting the operator know about upcoming high and low spots. If the grade drastically changed – due to a manhole or pothole – and the "checker" wasn't fast enough to catch it, work would stop. Then, the paver would have to go back and fix the mistake.

After evaluating several industry leading providers, Amico chose Leica Geosystems as its strategic technology partner and began using Leica's new MS50 MultiStation and SmartNet global positioning devices to continuously check grades and refine information in real-time.

"This real-time ability, combined with the entire machine control operation, allows us to provide operators with real-time information that they can implement and use to get tolerances of 1 to 2 millimeters, which would be unheard of without using these controls."

– Dominic Amicone

As pavers move forward, the multistation and SmartNet technology allow operators to have a sonic sensor that lets them know immediately if they need to go higher or lower based on a pre-programmed model. The machine's blades are controlled automatically, adjusting the thickness of the material.

"The thing I like most about it is being able to predict the surface. Operators can see a surface display on their tablet that lets them see exactly what they are getting into, which makes the whole process easier. Before, our process was reactive and relied on a lot of guesswork. Surveyors had to perform grade checks every 20 meters. It was slow and tedious and we were constantly chasing grade. Now we're setting grade."

– Brian Laramie,
Amico's Head Surveyor

More accurate and efficient

This automated process is more efficient and eliminates the number of crewmembers involved, saving money and improving safety. The technology's speed and accuracy is perhaps the most impressive aspect.

"We are seeing an incredible level of accuracy between similar points on two setups, and the actual scanning process is very, very fast," said Laramie. "We're shooting granular surfaces, so you would think there would be at least an inch of discrepancy between the two scans, but we really haven't come across that."

Amico's work won't end with the design and initial construction of The Herb Gray Parkway project, which is expected to be complete in 2015. As part of the deal, the firm will maintain the structure for the next 30 years. This level of commitment requires the highest standard of quality and productivity. This encouraged Amico to seek out innovative solutions not readily used in the marketplace.

"Here on the parkway, one of the biggest challenges we had was the frequency of changes. Having a total GPS network system in place allowed us to change cross-sections, lines and grade on a regular basis, virtually daily. And with 14 crews on the jobsite at the same time, it allowed us to really control the material we were moving and the pavements we were placing."

– Dominic Amicone

A solutions approach

"When it came time to select a GPS-controlled system, it was evident that Leica Geosystems not only had state-of-the-art technology and equipment, but they were willing to reach out of the box and come up with solutions for our unique project. It was an interactive partnership from the beginning."

– Dominic Amicone

Amico was particularly impressed with the innovative Leica Nova MS50 MultiStation and its ability to take an array of points and provide crews with averages. Using the MS50 and SmartNet process in the field enables surveyors to program the machines with operators on a daily basis. Changes can be easily accepted and modified and operators have visibility into how machines are coordinating across the jobsite.

"It has allowed our crews to control grade and correct for sub-grade errors on the go," said Amicone.

"The ability to correct that has not only minimized the oversight needed on a job, but it has also allowed us to hit production levels that would have otherwise been impossible to accomplish."

At first, some crewmembers were apprehensive and skeptical of the new technology and control systems – even checking and double-checking grades to make sure they were accurate. Now, they have come to fully trust the numbers and are very confident with the new equipment and process.

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"It is pretty unique when you go onto one of our project sites and don't see a single grade stake. This experience has definitely inspired us to keep pushing the boundaries and strengthen our commitment to emerging technologies."

– Brian Laramie

The new industry standard

Though implementing innovation is often difficult, Amicone credits the company's accepting culture and the open-mindedness of his crews to their ability to embrace the new technology so quickly.

"The actual transition and implementation of the machine controls has been virtually seamless. Our people have accepted it because it's an extension of the way they think," he said. "The younger people that come into this industry now use computers as an extension of their right arms. They were really keen on adapting this new technology and using it on the jobsite. It really defines and integrates the entire team."

Are multistations, laser scanning, GPS, and machine controls destined to become the new industry standard? To the next generation of surveyors at Amico, it certainly looks that way.

"With this modern technology, construction is a completely different process now. I drive through construction sites now and see batterboards and stakes popping up everywhere and everything looks like a smashed-up puzzle. I've been blessed with this technology. I don't even have to set up base stations – I just turn on the machine and go. All of my information is at my fingerprints and loaded on to my data collector. I think back and can't imagine how crews did it without this."

– Brian Laramie